Gardening with Dogs

Annie learns to cross our stream on the little bridge we made for her. She kept knocking down the cobble on the edges of the stream bed and crushing the plants. Now she uses her path and bridge.

THE DOG’S POINT OF VIEW:  Some dogs love to dig. It’s in their genes (some more than others) and in their hearts. Imagine, for a moment, the feel of the earth between your pads as it yields to the strength of your shoulders and the scrape of your nails…the feel of the dirt flying and thumping behind you, the all-consuming smell of the fresh soil, the clay, the roots as you dig deeper. Perhaps you even feel a sense of gratification as the hole widens or disappears into the depths. In the summer, the hole is cool and possibly damp. It wraps your body in comfort, protects you from the heat. In cooler days, it may just be a place to play and pass the time.

Most dogs don’t have a sense of where the garden begins and ends. They don’t know that the lawn is all theirs, and the flower or vegetable beds are out of bounds, or that the decorative water feature you.’ve spent hours rejuvenating after winter is absolutely verboten. They just play or wander happily within the boundaries of their space.

THE HUMAN’S POINT OF VIEW: We love to gaze upon the green sweep of lawn yielding to masses of flowers and shrubs. We have spent hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars on our gardens, countless hours, weeks, years accomplishing this remarkable feat. We are sometimes passionate about the outcome, but sometimes, like our dogs, we just love the feel of the soil on our skin and beneath our fingernails. Whatever our motivation in creating our personal landscaping and gardening fantasy, most of us don’t like dogs digging in our sacred place, or even wandering through our flowerbeds. 

Tips:

  • Realize that your dog has no intention of ruining your garden. He is simply out there following his genetic impulses (terriers, for example, dig to reach their prey) or because he finds great pleasure in the work of it. If you can look at this objectively, it will help you to solve the problem.
  • Be sure your garden is fully fenced before you let your dog run free.  Being outside with your dog does not prevent him from chasing a deer, cat, raccoon, or squirrel across the road in front of a car. I’ve had several clients over the years who have had dogs injured or killed due to the misconception that they could control their off-leash dog in an unfenced yard while they were distracted by gardening. 
  • Dogs mimic our behaviors. As much as you love to have your dog’s company while you dig and plant, having him with you will encourage him to dig too. Leave him inside the house or on the deck while you work.
A low fence can help to guide your dog to use the pathways you create.

  • Provide pathways and unobtrusive fences to keep your dog out of areas you want to protect. Introduce him to the fence when he is leashed, and reward him with praise and small treats for staying on the correct side of the fence. Don’t allow him in the yard unattended until he is fully trained. Otherwise, he will practice the behavior you want him to avoid..
  • Provide chew toys and play toys to entertain your dog when you are outside with him. Show him what he’s ALLOWED to do.
  • Provide shade and water.
Annie in her digger-dog hole
  • Give your dog a place to dig. He may have indicated where he wants to excavate, and if you can integrate this into your garden, do it!  We were lucky in that three generations of our dogs have been digging under a rhododendron in our back garden. Each generation has taught the next where to dig.  We have a 27 year old digger-dog hole there now. Vera especially loved her digger-dog hole.
  • Encourage your dog to dig in the spot you have chosen: bury treats, bones, toys–things your dog loves–in the spot. Make a game of it. Cheer him on, praise him, get excited for him as he spreads his claws, sets his shoulders, and gets into it. 
  • Don’t leave your dog outside unattended–even if you’re home. Dogs have to be taught what is sanctioned by their people and what isn’t. They need to be praised for behaviors we want and directed away from behaviors we don’t like.

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